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Genshaft delivers rosy wrap-up of Legislative budget issues

 A day after returning from Tallahassee, where Florida lawmakers hammered out their budget for the year, University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft was declaring success.

Though the budget immediately splits USF's Polytechnic branch campus away into the state's 12th university, it gives USF extra money to absorb the costs of that transition. It also spreads $300 million in state budget cuts to the university system more evenly -- a main concern for USF since the Senate's original spending plan gave the school a disproportionate cut. And it restores the $6 million budget for USF's fledgling pharmacy school, which was previously funded through USF Poly's budget and would have gone away in a split.

"I am very pleased with the outcome," Genshaft said at a news conference Tuesday. "The University of South Florida is stronger than ever."

Under the new plan, USF will get $10 million each year for five years to allow current and recently admitted USF Polytechnic students to finish their degrees at the existing joint-use campus with Polk State College in Lakeland. USF will not recruit additional students for the Lakeland program.

When all those students are graduated, the $10 million recurring dollars will go back into the main USF Tampa's budget. The plan, brokered by Lakeland Republican Rep. Seth McKeel, sets a five-year timeline, but Genshaft said Tuesday that she will continue supporting existing USF students in Lakeland even if it takes longer than that.

"It is very important to me that we care for out students, number one," Genshaft said.

Meanwhile, the new Florida Polytechnic University, will break off right away and start from scratch to earn its own accreditation. USF had already submitted an application for USF Poly to have separate campus accreditation, like its campuses in St. Petersburg and Sarasota, but now that application goes out the window.

It may not be the quickest way to get there, according to information Genshaft brought back last week from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Allowing USF Poly to gain accreditation under USF's umbrella would have taken about a year and a half, Genshaft said. That was part of a plan laid out by the Florida Board of Governors late last year, after Senate budget chairman JD Alexander began his quest for the new institution.

Starting from scratch would take three years at the earliest, and that would also require that the new institution graduate one class of students first -- without accreditation, which would mean no federal financial aid.

It's out of USF's hands now. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, wanted a new university right away, and he's closer than ever to getting it. 

All that's left is approval by Gov. Rick Scott, who said previously he wasn't sure splitting of USF Poly right away was the best idea, instead favoring the Board of Governors's path.

But now USF's new funding -- the $10 million for absorbing USF Poly faculty, staff and students, and the $6 million for pharmacy -- is tied into that Poly-split bill. With Genshaft praising the addition of those funds, think Scott will want to veto it?